One retail plaza denied; another proposed on 33

Zoning Board gives thumbs down to plan for 33, Butcher Road


W hile Monroe Township recently denied an application for one commercial center on Route 33 amid concerns from residents and officials, another developer has submitted plans for a retail center on the same highway.

Residents from the Renaissance and Monroe Manor adult communities turned out at the Aug. 26 meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment to voice opposition to Monroe 33 Developers LLC’s plans for the intersection of Route 33 and Butcher Road. The plans called for a gas station, Wawa convenience store, bank and four other retail tenants.

“I think the principal reason for the denial was traffic,” said Monroe Township Engineer Ernest Feist.

In earlier hearings for the project, dubbed Monroe Towne Plaza, officials expressed to the developer that the plans should include changes to the intersection to help with existing traffic issues that would be exacerbated by the development, according to Feist.

“They really didn’t provide any improvements as part of their application,” he said.

A jug-handle turn on eastbound Route 33 at the intersection becomes backed up with traffic during rush hour, something that both officials and residents saw as becoming a larger problem if the project were approved. Feist said he wrote a letter to the state Department of Transportation three weeks ago to bring its attention to the issue.

Inhabitants of the only two residential areas located near the proposed site made it clear that they also viewed the project’s impacts as negative, according to Feist.

“Their biggest complaint was that jug handle,” he said. “They were as concerned as we were.”

The developer sought site plan approval, but also needed a use variance for the gas station portion of the project, as the site is located within the township’s HD, or highway development zone, which does not allow for gas stations. Part of the criteria for approving such a variance is the applicant’s ability to prove the need for what is being proposed.

According to Feist, the board decided that since there are two gas stations located near the site, a Raceway in Monroe and a Hess in East Windsor, the necessity for an additional station did not exist.

Monroe Marketplace

Though recently submitted to the Planning Board, the concept for Monroe Marketplace has been discussed in the public eye for several years, as it was previously slated to include a minor league ballpark. Edgewood Properties has, however, eliminated that and other portions of the project that were proposed earlier.

Slated for location on westbound Route 33 between Perrineville and Bentley roads, original plans for the project called for the ballpark, high-end retail stores, luxury condominiums, a commuter lot and a performing arts center. Plans for the site also included a new Make-A-Wish Foundation headquarters, which is now being built on land donated by the developer to the charity organization.

Current plans going before the Planning Board include retail stores, a bank and a restaurant, totaling 525,033 square feet on the approximately 4-acre site, according to Feist. The remaining components of the project were abandoned.

The ballpark was to be built with no funding from the township or county, but as plans took shape, the developer looked to both entities for help with infrastructure and other aspects of the project, Township Council President Gerald Tamburro told Greater Media Newspapers a year ago.

A change in zoning would have been necessary for the residential portion of the project to take shape, as the site is located in the HD zone, which allows for retail and light industrial uses. Tamburro said last year that when the community-impact studies were conducted, the developer could not prove that the residential portion of the project would not create a burden for taxpayers. At the time, Edgewood wanted non-age-restricted housing there, which would have brought more students into the school district, Tamburro said.

Township Environmental Manager and Planning Board member John Riggs said at the time that officials want any future development there to incorporate greater setbacks from the road, as well as greenery and water features in their landscaping. Such an environment would create a setting where people would not only come to shop, but also to walk or jog, and enjoy the grounds, Riggs said.

In the past, some have speculated that the proposed Monroe Marketplace project was competing with another developer’s plans for a large retail center at Route 33 and Millhurst Road in neighboring Manalapan. That 500,000-square-foot project, called Village at Manalapan, is expected to include a community shopping center with a supermarket and related stores, a lifestyle shopping center that has been compared to the Grove retail center in Shrewsbury, and professional office space.

The Village received preliminary approval from the Manalapan Township Planning Board in 2006, but is currently on hold so township officials can study traffic concerns at the already overworked, underfunctioning traffic intersection of Millhurst Road and Route 33 west.

Like the Monroe Marketplace, the Village plan has been scaled back over the years. Applicant Manalapan Retail Realty Partners initially proposed what was referred to as the vision plan for The Village at Manalapan. Developer Richard Brunelli originally proposed it as 800,000 square feet of the community and lifestyle shopping areas that eventually were approved, but also with an entertainment complex, a hotel, a tennis complex and a “downtown” retail area with apartments over the stores.